The history of Ukraine's language legislation

Author : Olha Chaika

What laws have been regulating language policy over the last 26 years in Ukraine?
21:14, 26 January 2017

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Since the beginning of the struggle for independence, the question of the state language in Ukraine has been perhaps the most controversial one, both in society and among the Ukrainian elite. And every time this issue arose on the agenda, there were discussions that moved into a hot confrontation. Ukrainian language was declared official during the time of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, but along with it, the use of other languages was guaranteed. In 2012, the country adopted a new law on languages, which also provided numerous opportunities of use of regional languages .

In January 2017, the Parliament suggested to strengthen the role of the Ukrainian language and to oblige citizens to use it in almost all areas of life.

Related: Ukraine returns to native language

We decided to remind all the legislation on the state language since 1990.

In the first decade of independence, people could use Ukrainian or any other languages.

In 1989, in the times of the Ukrainian SSR, the law on languages was adopted. It proscribed using Ukrainian and any other languages in government, education, science and so on. The Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR, decided to enact this law from the beginning of 1990; not immediately, but gradually, within 3-5 years, articles that Ukrainian and Russian languages are used on an equal footing, should come into action, and in 5-10 years - articles about the use of the Ukrainian language, for example, in education, and regional languages if necessary.

The document allowed using Ukrainian, Russian and other languages in record keeping, in the courts, etc. The highest authority had to adopt acts in the Ukrainian language and publish them in any other one language. The citizen could contact the officials in any language.

But identity documents could be in Ukrainian or Russian.

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The law on regional languages has barely changed the life of Ukrainians. USSR Act remained in force until 2012, when it was replaced by the Law "On the Principles of language policy", submitted to the Verkhovna Rada by MPs Vadym Kolesnichenko and Sergey Kivalov. It still regulates the use of state and other languages in Ukraine.

Unlike the previous law, this one does not mention the identity documents in Russian. However, the expansion of opportunities of so-called "regional languages" actually allowed to continue to issue documentation in Russian and even send letters to authorities of higher levels in Russian.

Thus, many settlements of Ukraine in many spheres of life used Russian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Gagauz, Yiddish, Crimean Tatar, Moldovan, German, Modern Greek, Polish, Romani, Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, Ruthenian, Karaite or Krimchak as regional. At least people had the right to do it.

Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law was sharply criticized for the wide use of regional languages and continues to be the subject of criticism.

According to the law, the language of the Verkhovna Rada and acts of public authorities, is Ukrainian. When it comes to the language of elections, referendums, science, and education - the focus is on the human right to freely use any language.

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The media can use the official language or any other. This was proscribed at first, then later it was changed, with the introduction of quota transfers in the official language in television and radio.

Verkhovna Rada, the bodies of state power, and local self-government should monitor the implementation of this law. In case of violation of the law, officials of the aforementioned institutions bear administrative or criminal liability.

The document stipulates that incitement to hatred on the basis of the language issue entails criminal liability. The linguistic rights can be defended in the court, Commissioner for Human Rights or in international courts.

Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law was connected with the scandals. In 2012, when the law "On the basis of language policy" was adopted, Ukraine has faced a wave of "linguistic Maidan." Some people zealously defended Ukrainian language and demanded to strengthen its role, others have noted that their native language is Russian, and its use should be legalized.

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After the Revolution of Dignity and change of power February 23, 2014 the Verkhovna Rada tried to abolish the law, but acting President Oleksandr Turchynov refused to sign the abolition of the language of the law before the adoption of the new, in particular, not to "erode" the situation. So the law "On the basis of language policy" is in force ever today.

Russia, for its part, argued the need for the introduction of troops into the territory of Ukraine is an attempt to cancel the language law and the alleged harassment of the Russian-speaking population. Meanwhile, 57 people's deputies in 2014, appealed to the Constitutional Court with a demand to declare the Kivalov-Kolesnichenko law unconstitutional.

Related: Ukrainian as foreign language: interestingly, cheerfully, efficiently!

Now the Constitutional Court continues to consider the constitutionality of adoption of this law. One of the meetings took place in December, when it passed under the building picket, people demanded to recognize the language law unconstitutional.

In spite of the doubtful issues and the resistance of both the population and the deputies, there are supporters of the law - firstly, it has been working for 4 years, and secondly, the Ukrainian society has repeatedly sounded the idea that the language issue artificially distracts from the pressing problems and the lack of effective reforms. So it would be better not to touch it once again, in order not to "divide" the Ukrainians on the basis of the language of communication.

Recently, Verkhovna Rada filed several language laws, which were somewhat different, but all are aimed at strengthening the Ukrainian language in almost all spheres of life of ordinary Ukrainians - education, services, purchasing goods, public transport, use of the software, etc. For civil servants knowledge of the Ukrainian language can also acquire greater significance than ever before.

Related: Ukrainian should receive status of international communication language, - Grinevich

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